10 January 2009

IRPS Cepu Forestry Railway Tour

On 28 December 2008 the Indonesian Railways Preservation Society (IRPS) organised an excursion at the Cepu Forestry Railways. About 60 IRPS members, plus around 20 non-members, took part on this four hours trip. The 30 kilometer track from Cepu to the teakwood forest memorial at Gubug Payung is part of the Indonesian State Forestry Company’s 1067 mm Cape gauge rail network in the area, built in 1915. Most of the network, however, has been closed, and only a few sections, such as the Cepu-Gubug Payung line, remain.

Route of the Cepu Forestry Railway

Teakwood (Tectona grandis L.f.) is not a native of Indonesia, but this high quality wood was already known in Java since the 14th century. Teakwood forests are mainly found along Java’s north coast. The best teakwood in the world are those grown in the hills of Cepu, Central Java. From pre-colonial days this area has supplied timber for the ship making industries of Tegal, Juana, Jepara, Rembang, Lasem and Tuban.

By the end of the 19th century the Dutch colonial government had greatly intensified the exploitation of the teakwood forests. The local people who used to freely collect wood from the forests were not allowed to enter. The people protest took the form of movements such as that founded by Samin Surosentiko in Blora (near Cepu). Saminism has evolved into a moral teaching, stressing non-violence, truth and honesty.

It is not known how many locomotives have served on the Cepu forestry line. What is left now are three Berliner Maschinebau-Actien-Gesellschaft (BMAG) engines, two Du Croo and Brauns engines and a Ruston and Hornsby Diesel engine. There is also a former Indonesian Railway Company (PTKA) engine, C2902.

”Bahagia”, one of the three identical 0-10-0T BMAGs.

One of the delightful DuCroo & Brauns

It has been several years since these engines have been used for real logging activities. Following the fall of the Suharto government in 1998, widespread illegal logging has taken place and now the Forestry Company is trying to rehabilitate the teak forests. Now, the steam engines are solely used to haul chartered tourist trains (which are not very often and far in between). The IRPS tour did not attempt to be "authentic", in the sense of recreating the logging trains of the past and, therefore, no log wagons were attached to the engine. Considering that December is in the rainy season, and that not all passengers were hard-core railway enthusiasts it was decided to attach three passenger coaches instead.

This is how a real logging train looks like (photo: Rob Dickinson)

The train was just a passenger train hauled by a steam locomotive traveling through a teakwood forest. A bit boring, actually, for the fanatic enthusiasts. But, because it was not possible to take water anymore midway, the train took two tank wagons instead of the usual one, which proved to be a blessing. These wagons were fully occupied by the hard-liners, while the coaches were half empty.

Here at Pancuran Bregojo the engines used to take water. Now they stop only to transfer wood.

The Cepu Forestry Railway is now also facing a staff crisis. Sudiran (driver) and Asmadi (fireman) will both retire within a year, and there are no people prepared to replace them.

Driver Sudiran (above) and fireman Asmadi (below, with my son Nandi)

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